Program aims to cut campus water use by 20 percent

With drought plaguing California, Fresno State will attempt to reduce its water consumption this coming growing season by implementing a water conservation plan that aims to reduce 20 percent – 60-65 million gallons – of water consumption.

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Technology is vital to the university’s ability to conserve water, two-thirds of which is used for irrigation on and off campus. Matt Vieira / The Collegian

 

An estimated 320 million gallons of water is used on campus each year said Robert Boyd, associate vice president for Facilities Management. While no doubt an “aggressive” project, Boyd said it was an obtainable goal that shows the university is willing to stretch its resources.

“The impacts are going to be far reaching, and as a result people are going to look to the university to be a leader, as well as providing some of the answers,” Boyd said. “The best thing we can do is demonstrate how serious we take this resource and how we’re going to do our best to try to utilize it to its best efficiency.”

When considering water conservation, efficiency is key, he said.

“The drought is forcing us to do a better job of water management,” said Dr. David Zoldoske, director of the Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT).

CIT, one of Fresno State’s several water-related organizations, has been working since 1980 to advance irrigation technology and equipment.

Roughly two-thirds of the university’s water is being used for irrigation both on campus and farmland, meaning maintaining efficient technologies are instrumental for conservation.

In regards to the university’s farm, Zoldoske said CIT is working to better implement a transparent system that “precisely” measures how water is being applied in order to eliminate waste.

“We’re working hard to upgrade the farm irrigation system so we can measure and manage those water supplies efficiently,” Zoldoske said.

Think micro-sprinklers, soil sensors, water meters and drip irrigation – to name a few.

Applicable to Boyd’s aim of Fresno State providing the community with answers for the current drought, CIT holds several workshops and seminars each month to educate local farmers and growers on various technologies to use.

“We then use those technologies as educational demonstrations sites to bring growers in and share that information with them,” Boyd said.

“It’s a community issue. It’s one that’s going to affect our entire Valley.”

In addition to implementing irrigation techniques, CIT will complete the construction of two more wells on campus to aid water supply for the farm in the coming weeks. Not connected to the city’s water supply, Fresno State pumps and maintains its own water system.

Yet with agriculture largely controlled by the fickle nature of climate, Boyd said the plan could face challenges with the “wild card” of weather. In a situation of 30-40 days of 100 degree plus weather, Boyd said measures would need to be taken in order to “protect our investments and our plant material.”

“It’s a balancing act,” Boyd said.

Zoldoske also reiterated the importance of maintaining a balance.

“Not only are we trying to make sure we put just enough water on when the crop needs it, we also hope to increase yields and the profitability of the farm,” Zoldoske said. “That’s how the farm pays its bill – to make money, and, of course, we’ve got nearly 100 students that work on the farm in different capacities, every thing from working in the trees and vines, growing crops, to the dairy.”

While such balancing efforts are important for the university, in light of the aggressive 20 percent proposed water reduction, some effects are inevitable.

In terms of farmland, Zoldoske said while too early to know specifics, “We know it’s going to affect us at some level.”

“For the first time, production on the farm, or at least the growing of crops, will be affected by the lack of water,” Zoldoske said. “There may be crops we don’t plant. There may be crops that are delayed until the water becomes available.”

Meanwhile on campus, Boyd said he hopes to minimize any visual consequences of the plan but was aware there may be “a bit of browning in different areas.”

“You might see areas that are maybe not as luscious as it’s been in the past, but I’m still going to try to maintain our appearance on the campus,” Boyd said. “Obviously, you don’t want to be the place that looks like it’s run down or neglected.”

While turf color may change, Boyd said other visuals would remain, such as the fountain. Mindful of people questioning the fountain running during a time of drought, he explained it uses minimal water in comparison with irrigation.

“The fountain’s been running there for 50 years, so it’s important we keep those traditions in place, as well,” Boyd said.

Other measures incorporated into the plan on campus include the planting of drought-tolerant plants and injecting organic hydrogels into areas that require significant amounts of water. The hydrogels work to improve absorption of water and nutrients and will be used in areas such as the Peace Garden, Bulldog Diamond and Maple Mall.

While sacrifices may be made, Boyd said, “We need to challenge and stretch ourselves” in hindsight of such an ongoing drought.

“When we started to see a third year of pretty severe drought on campus, I started thinking how we could potentially get more involved and do our part to help preserve that precious resource we call water,” Boyd said. “I’m just going to try to use the resources as consciously as you possibly can.”